Multiple illustrated people standing in front of a mountain with the letters I P R I on the bottom

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April 1, 2021

Taking Strides in Addressing the Criminalization of and Impunity Against Indigenous Peoples Globally Amidst the COVID 19 Pandemic

By Joan Carling

Indigenous peoples across the globe are facing a serious crisis of criminalization and widespread human rights violations with impunity. While they constitute 6.2% of the global population, they are overrepresented in cases of killings of environment and land rights defenders. According to reports of Global Witness, 40% of the 200 defenders killed in 2016 were Indigenous. In 2017, Indigenous defenders constituted 25% of those killed while increased attacks resulted in serious injuries and more cases of criminalization in 2018. These severe human rights violations were largely committed in response to protest actions of Indigenous peoples against commercial mining, agribusiness and energy projects. However, States and companies are not held to account and there is hardly any access to justice for victims, their families and communities.

This alarming condition is the backdrop for the establishment of the Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI) in September 2019. IPRI is an indigenous-led organization leading a Global Initiative to prevent, reduce and respond to acts of criminalization and impunity against Indigenous peoples and to provide better protection and access to justice for actual and potential victims not only as individuals but as collectives or communities. This global effort is led by Indigenous leaders and organizations to strengthen coordination, solidarity and actions at all levels to improve the situation of Indigenous peoples.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, IPRI has undertaken research, advocacy and other activities on the situation and issues relating to the criminalization of and impunity against Indigenous peoples. In collaboration with Indigenous organizations, human rights organizations and advocates, IPRI held twelve webinars, circulated public petition letters gaining broad support from diverse organizations around the world, and issued communications to relevant UN bodies and procedures raising attention to urgent cases of criminalization and human rights violations. Likewise, IPRI has established partnerships with Indigenous organizations in its focus countries, namely Brazil, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mexico and the Philippines, and mobilized attention and support to their defined priorities and urgent needs. IPRI has also extended legal and sanctuary support to a growing number of cases of criminalization of Indigenous leaders and communities.

Looking forward, IPRI intends to have more visibility in its focus countries through its national partners, intensify its engagement with the UN system, engage with States and companies, and broaden its network and collaboration with other organizations and networks to advance its goals. It will continue to collaborate with other entities to expand its legal and sanctuary fund, including with the Defend and Defenders Coalition, Indigenous-led rapid response funds in Colombia and Brazil, among others. IPRI’s Global Board, International Advisory Group and secretariat have been instrumental in building a solid foundation for IPRI to advance its mission for better protection of the rights of indigenous peoples globally.

Joan Carling is the Director of Indigenous Peoples Rights International